Michigan State fans were welcomed back into Munn Ice Arena but went home in disappointment as Air Force defeated Michigan State 3-2 in overtime.
After an offseason debate of who would start game No. 1 in-between the pipes, senior Drew DeRidder was the one who got the starting nod over sophomore guard Pierce Charleson from MSU Head Coach Danton Cole. With fans back in the arena for the first time since the 2019-2020 season, the energy was felt right away.
Five minutes into the opening period, MSU was called offsides at the Air Force blue line. After the whistle, a large scrum broke out in the corner with the Krygier twins, Christian and Cole, the main participants for the Spartans. The crowd loved it as the two defensemen along with two Air Force skaters were all sent to the box for off-setting roughing minors.
Michigan State’s new-look first line of left-wing Erik Middendorf, center Josh Nodler, and right-wing Griffin Loughran came out buzzing and were rewarded shortly after the roughing penalties. Loughran forced a turnover in the Falcons’ defensive zone, turned toward the net, and slid a pass across Air Force starting senior goaltender Alex Schilling where Nodler cleaned it up for the goal.
However, Air Force answered rather quickly with a goal of its own. Working behind the net, sophomore forward Nate Horn was able to gain some separation, finding defensemen Luke Rowe wide open in front of the net, who buried a shot past DeRidder to even up the score.
The second period started off in a bonanza, starting with a hooking penalty by junior forward Jagger Joshua. Forwards Mitchell Mattson and Nicolas Müller with defensemen Powell Connor and Cole Krygier were the first power unit for MSU, and did a fairly good job early game. But with 13 ticks on the clock left in Joshua's penalty, the Falcons threw the puck on net and DeRidder gave up a rebound right into the slot. Horn was in perfect position and rifled a shot past a sliding DeRidder to give Air Force its first lead of the game.
Forward Mitchell Lewandowski, who returns for his fifth season in East Lansing, and sophomore center Kristof Papp had newfound chemistry and it showed especially in the middle period. First, it was a mid-ice no-look drop pass from Papp to Lewandowski that created a dangerous scoring chance for the Spartans sniper.
The two connected later in the period though, when Papp attempted a wraparound try that initially was stopped by Schilling. Lewandowski was there though, and pushed the puck into the net, giving him his 50th career goal and knotting the game up at two apiece.
Early in the final period, it looked MSU had jumped out to a 3-2 lead on a well-executed play. Freshman defenseman David Gucciardi threw the puck at the net, searching for a Michigan State stick. The stick he found was Papp, who deflected the puck past Schilling with his back turned the wrong way.
The referees took a look at it and took away what would have been a go-ahead goal after deeming that Papp was illegally positioned in the crease.
The remainder of the period went back and forth, but with neither team generating a multitude of scoring chances. Air Force outshot Michigan State 15-8 in the final 20 minutes of regulation and had also had the best scoring chance on a sliding save by DeRidder.
In 3-on-3 overtime, Air Force won the opening draw and controlled the puck for the majority of the remainder. MSU tried to get a switch in, but Nodler got caught behind the play, leading to an odd man rush for the Falcons. Junior forward Willie Reim sniped the puck past DeRidder, ending the game with a 3-2 for the Air Force Falcons.
DeRidder was solid in net for the green and white, particularly in the 3rd period with the ice tilted in the Falcons' favor for the majority of the period. He made 36 saves and kept the Spartans in it for the entire game.
Despite losing forward Tommy Apap who was one of the best face-off takers in the country last year, MSU remained dominant in the circle winning 38 of 61 face-offs.
Michigan State will attempt to get revenge against the Falcons in game two of this series Saturday night at 7 p.m.
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